Recap: the ego’s strongest and most subtle attachment is to your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and the world around you. Broadly speaking, there are three ways the ego tries to entrench itself in your thinking, through judgement, being ‘right’ and through pride. Each of these subtly promotes the idea of separateness, creates attachment and ultimately suffering. (See previous article).
Inevitably life doesn’t always go your way.
You get passed over for a promotion, rejected by a partner or you miss your flight and your holiday with it.
Not only do these events cause you suffering because of your original attachments to them, but when you react – instead of respond – you feed the ego further still.
The ego thrives on reactivity.
The ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about other people but also about situations. It does this to establish you as a victim, which is of course a discrete, separate human identity, and as you know the ego’s primary fuel is separateness.
The most common ways the ego creates a victim mind-set is through blame, shame and guilt.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
When something unexpected and negative happens to us in our lives, incurred by someone or something else, our first reaction is almost always to blame.
Blame is a perfectly understandable reaction to an event, particularly one that has been traumatic or otherwise very hurtful to us. In some schools of thought, blame is considered to be a self-protection mechanism to help us in the early stages of processing the event in its full.
When you are ready though, you must look closer at blame, for within it life the seeds of suffering.
Blame not only creates separation between you and the offending person or situation, it also creates a detrimental split in your psyche, that of powerlessness.
Blame actually disempowers you because when we blame, you refuse to acknowledge that you are the architect of your experience.
To blame is to “be” “lame” of your innate ownership of the fullness of your experience.
Blaming directs your attention and responsibility away from yourself and places it outside on someone or something else.
Take a moment to reflect on this.
You always have a choice in every single moment of every day, the choice of your attitude towards events. Most people can operate with this mind-set for much of their day-to-day activities but when something they really care about is attacked in some way, they fall into blame and can’t reason that they should change their inner attitude. Perhaps this sounds familiar?
The art and cultivation is to gradually rein in our tendency to blame at the more extreme ends of our experience (when the holiday gets cancelled).
Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories you’ll ever see of this is the case of Victor Frankl who was a Jewish man captured by the Nazis in WW2 and spent three years in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Despite the average life expectancy of just six months, he stayed alive and managed to escape.
When he came out he wrote “Man’s Search For Meaning” a book documenting his experience and how he survived. At the core of the book is the message that the only people that survived were those who could finding meaning in their experience by taking ownership of it.
Despite the absolute horrors and atrocities he witnessed and had committed to him, he took 100% responsibility for his response to them, and thus the quality of his overall life experience.
In his words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So even at the most extreme end of human experience, we can empower ourselves by taking responsibility for the quality of our life experience by not blaming others, no matter how unfairly we have been treated or how much we want to.
This holds equally true for events that have long since passed, for example in childhood. Many people have had difficult childhood experiences and at the time could only ‘react’ to these events as vulnerable children.
It is still entirely possible and in fact deeply necessary to go back into these painful events and re-assume responsibility for our reaction to them. Doing so, whilst painful, empowers us again. This is the field of shadow work and a whole activity of introspection that is covered in the Transform Your Fear course.
Past or present, the salve for blame is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things you can do because it restores the power from an event back to you. You are taking ownership of your experience.
Now, forgiveness is a multi-layered, unpeeling process that we will explore in greater depth later but for now, let us conclude by saying that when you take responsibility for your response to a difficult experience, you restore power to your true self and disempower the ego.
You will feel wonderful for it.
The salve for blame is forgiveness.
Shame is one of the most insipid and powerful ways the ego defends and entrenches itself in your experience.
If you had to rank your least favourite life experiences, to be shamed and humiliated publicly is probably up top, right?
Shame is one of the most emotionally charged mental states we can feel, so we try to avoid it at all costs, which makes it one of the ego’s most powerful resources.
Shame is closely linked to both pride and blame. When we hold a prideful image of ourselves and life throws us an experience that doesn’t accord with it firstly we feel hurt (our pride), then we might feel ashamed (shame) and then we look to externalise (blame).
Shame is an illusion of the ego. It is an entirely conditioned mind-state. This is actually surprisingly easy to observe but incredibly difficult to put into practice.
A good, stark example of this is in different culture’s attitudes towards nudity.
If you visit a spa in the United Kingdom, it’s very likely everyone will be clothed. No one would even think about going in naked and there would likely be signs prohibiting it. Conversely, go to Germany or Sweden and it’s typically entirely nude, you would feel completely out of place with swimwear on, and ironically in some places there are signs saying you have to be naked!
It’s very easy to sit and think, “well, that’s weird that the Germans do that”. Actually, isn’t it weirder that it’s a point of difference to begin with? Why are they comfortable and the British are not? Same bodies; same people; same circumstances.
We choose what we can be shamed about. This is an amazingly powerful realisation, if we choose it, we can choose to not be as well. Choice is a conscious response.
Now, a word of warning. It can very painful (to the ego) to put yourself up against this conditioning, to be vulnerable and lean in to these areas of discomfort, but when you do you relinquish your conditioned capacity to feel shame about that aspect of your life, you feel incredibly liberated.
This is commonly called entering your ‘shadow’ and is the subject of a whole other field work that you can learn more about in Transforming Your Fear.
In summary, shame is a hot, charged emotion and it can be deeply unpleasant to feel but it is an ego-fiction that can be dissolved through vulnerably leaning into it.
The deeper you look into the ideas behind your shame, the more you pierce through to the truth that you are shameless, beautiful and completely fine, just as you are.
Shame is an illusion of the ego.
Guilt completes a triangle of the ego’s maintenance mechanisms.
Guilt typically arises in two ways.
Firstly, in response to an action you’ve taken that didn’t meet with your expectations of yourself. Secondly, as a means of increasing the longevity of your blame and shame cycle.
In the first scenario, where you may have performed an action or said something you feel guilty about, these feelings may be valid. It’s important to relate sincerely and in a blame-free manner to your actions, taking responsibility but not haranguing yourself for the action. There is a difference here between response and reaction.
Response is the conscious understanding of having done something not from the full totality of your awareness, but out of ignorance (as all actions that hurt arise from here). Sincerely relating to the mistake extinguishes any potential for blame, which would otherwise serve to strengthen the ego. Often a sincere conscious apology to the person helps complete the process.
Reaction is the unconscious, sometimes hostile, judgement of yourself for your behaviour. There is no desire to relate authentically, just to wallow in self-pity, all of which furnishes your ego with a stronger idea of a self, which perpetuates the suffering. Often, you will avoid doing the courageous thing and consciously apologising to the person in question.
Looking at the second scenario of guilt creation, there is a clear link between guilt, blame and shame.
As we learnt above, when you blame others, you betray ourselves. You betray and disempower yourself by inadvertently declaring that you are the victimof circumstances beyond your control. This then unconsciously creates guilt because you know at a deeper level that this behaviour is flawed and self-sabotaging.
This is a challenging state of affairs.
We react to wounded pride with shame, then we react with blame and then we feel guilty for doing the first two.
This is why it’s actually very hard work to peel back from this loop of egoic conditioning. The mind can create a very strong grip which takes a while to see and recognise in its full cycle.
Many people say awareness is the first step of progress and it is indeed a major step. It’s very easy to fall into a vortex where you become unconscious of one of the stages of the chain of causality, without a complete picture you succumb to the same repeating patterns of behaviour. The truth, as they say, will set you free.
To break this chain of events, you need to cultivate awareness, forgiveness and humility which we will explore more deeply in the next lesson.
In summary, in our own actions guilt can be valid and useful for a short period to show us to relate sincerely to our actions. It is a temporary signpost to make us look at and correct our behaviour either through sincere apology to someone or waking up to a shame/blame vortex.
It is not something to spend an extended time with, it is something to forgive yourself for and learn the lessons from.
Exercise For The Day
Observe your mind through the course of the next 24 hours and see where it tries to make a victim of your circumstance. Look for emotionally charged thoughts that suggest you’re lacking in some way.
Make a journal note of each one.